Traci Trouble and Meg Thomas had been bumping around the Chicago scene for several years in separate bands when they finally saw each other play at a pool hall in Buffalo Grove in 2006. Thomas, a classically trained drummer, loved Trouble’s take-no-prisoners stage presence and commanding attitude. Trouble admired Thomas’ ferocious virtuosity. Before long they were writing hard-hitting but melodic rock songs together and decided to form a band: the Wanton Looks.
That’s when things took a turn that would be almost comical were it not so frustrating: finding a couple of likeminded women to complete the band.“We got together at first for the sake of fun, and then eventually we thought that there were no heavy female rock bands in Chicago, so why not try to make one?” Trouble says. “Where are these women that are upset, ticked off and want to rock?”
Advertisements on craigslist brought more than 20 candidates, none of whom made the cut.
“Trying to find other people on the same page with us was a nightmare,” Trouble says.
“You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult as big as Chicago is, but it was exhausting,” Thomas adds.
The worst candidate was a guitarist who brought a shoebox-sized amplifier to the audition for an unabashedly loud rock band.
“I could’ve put the amp in my back pocket,” Thomas says with a laugh. “It was cute.”
Then there was the transvestite who could really shred, Trouble says, “except he/she was fifty-something years old and brought his/her girlfriend-manager, who just sat in the corner the whole time watching. An amazing guitar player, but it would’ve been awkward for the band.”
Finally, they were introduced to Inga Olson, a classically trained cellist who could also rock a guitar. Olson was earning a degree at Elmhurst College and playing in several bands, but she finally came aboard – much to the relief of Thomas and Trouble. “She was the missing link,” Trouble says.
Another tryout brought Susie Q on rhythm guitar. A photo she sent in advance of her audition was not particularly promising – it depicted Susie in uniform for a disco cover band. But she more than measured up and the Wanton Looks finally played their first concert in 2009 at the Cobra Lounge.
Work began in earnest on an album, which was recently completed, and again Trouble, Thomas and their bandmates brought a seriousness of purpose that has defined the Wanton Looks since the start. The songs blend girl-group harmonies, a thumping bottom end, rapier-like guitars and big melodies.
“I wanted to do something we could be proud of and love,” says Trouble, who says the band will put the album out this year with or without a label’s help. “Some of my favorite albums growing up were by bands like the Pixies and the Breeders, and I remember listening to (the Pixies’) ‘Surfer Rosa’ over and over again in my high school. Ever since I wanted to make music like that.”
That it took so long for her and Thomas to find bandmates that felt the same way is indicative of some larger issues, says Trouble, who has been playing in bands since the mid-‘90s.
“I think anyone thinks they can be in band now, no matter how talented they are,” she says. “Lots of people want to be rock stars, but don’t realize it’s about your playing ability and your showmanship. Those are the things I wanted to have for everyone in this band. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.”
The band will play Ladyfest later this month, a festival focusing on women’s bands that Trouble first played in 2001 with one of her other bands. Both she and Thomas see it as an opportunity to help raise some funds for worthy charities and to perhaps inspire a few more likeminded would-be bands.
“Here we are in 2011, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way the way females are treated in the music industry,” Thomas says. “There are a lot of women out there who would like to do what we do, but maybe couldn’t or were discouraged. So it’s good to see women who aren’t afraid and are doing it.”
The Wanton Looks with the Cathy Santonies, Hollows, DJ Reaganomics at Ladyfest Midwest 2011 at 10 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Av., $15; ticketweb.com.